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Recognizing the significant opportunity that exists with this low-input, high-value tree crop, an ambitious project was initiated at Rutgers University in 1996 by turfgrass breeder, professor C. Reed Funk, aided by his then Rutgers (Cook College) undergraduate student Thomas Molnar, now Rutgers associate professor in plant biology. The goal was to overcome eastern filbert blight disease of hazelnuts through breeding and help initiate hazelnut production in New Jersey and the Mid-Atlantic region.
After many long-term, collaborative efforts and hazelnut research, in 2020 the first hazelnut cultivars from the Rutgers program were released to growers. They are named ‘Raritan‘— in honor of the river whose banks upon which Rutgers University lies — as well as ‘Somerset,’ ‘Monmouth,’ and ‘Hunterdon‘ — named for the first New Jersey counties where the trees are being grown.